Sisters Bludgeons Us Into Laugh-Induced Submission

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Photo: K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

Sometimes, even flaccid, uninspired comedies can win you over. In Sisters, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play mismatched siblings who throw one final, gigantic rager in their parents’ recently-sold house. As hot-mess single mother and hairdresser Kate, Fey gamely channels her inner petulant teen. Her own college-bound daughter (Madison Davenport) is dismayed that her mom’s irresponsibility has turned her into a square right at the time when she has to learn how to cut loose. Meanwhile, Poehler’s strait-laced, divorced nurse Maura is a tangle of overzealous helpfulness and klutziness. In the film’s opening scene, we see her outside a drug store trying to help a homeless man who turns out to be just a construction worker waiting for his ride. (We see the punchline coming from a mile away, but Poehler’s commitment to the bit still manages to sell it.)

Kate and Maura’s parents are selling the Orlando house where the girls grew up, so they need to come back, clean out their room, and say goodbye to their still spiritually lingering adolescence. Kate in particular — one of those popular kids who peaked in high school — takes the news of the sale pretty hard. But the last big party idea is a win-win: They can ruin the house for the snooty new owners, while also reliving their glory days. Plus there’s the small matter of a nice-looking, single neighbor (Ike Barinholtz), whom Kate is trying to inspire the romantically challenged Maura to seduce. The party will be the perfect opportunity for a drunken hook-up — just as it might have been back in high school.

Jokes that write themselves often weren’t worth writing in the first place, and the first half of Sisters suffers from the fact that the gags — mostly having to do with people having moved on in life and no longer being the crazy party animals they once were — feel thoroughly programmed. Fey and Poehler are their usual likable selves, and we already know they have nice chemistry together, but the writing and direction here is strictly sketch-comedy level, with wan one-liners and recurring bits that seem to have lost steam before they even started.

But as the party goes on, and on, and on, something takes over. Call it the film’s destructive singularity: As the guests keep coming (a young gang of lesbians, a gaggle of Asian manicurists, random people who start seeing pics posted on Facebook, not to mention Kate’s bitter high school rival Brinda, played by a delightfully pissy Maya Rudolph), and the house gets progressively trashed, we find ourselves pulled into, even impressed by, the chaos.

Freed from the need to follow a narrative, director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) indulges in the mounting catastrophes; his slack style starts to work better with the more fragmented, surreal hijinks onscreen. Supporting bits begin to shine, too. John Cena shows up as a stacked, stoic drug dealer named Pazuzu (his name is the funniest thing in the movie, frankly) who decides to stay for the party, only to stand there like a statue as Kate makes periodic attempts to woo him. Bobby Moynihan plays a dorky old friend whose unfunny jokes take a turn for the Dadaist when, in the middle of a desperate Scarface impersonation, he consumes an entire pile of white powder, which turns out to be Molly mixed with Adderall. Sisters isn’t anything to write home about, but through sheer momentum and a commitment to its gathering insanity, it somehow manages to bludgeon us into submission. You could do worse than stumble across it on cable someday.